Advent: A Reminder of Hope
Advent can remind us that our hope does not disappoint, because God’s promises are not empty.
Hope doesn’t mean what people think it means. In English you may hope for something that you don’t really expect to get. As in, “Boy, I hope there’s peace in the Middle East this Christmas.” That is what the English word may mean, but it isn’t what hope means in the Bible.
The biblical Greek word translated hope means expectant waiting, usually with longing. You hope for something you are confident will come.
Advent is all about hope in this biblical sense of the word. It’s a season of expectant waiting, as we remember how long Adam’s race waited for our Redeemer. God’s faithful waited century after century in hope of the Messiah.
Christians hope for many of the same things Israel hoped for: the Kingdom, redemption, and Jesus himself.
We Hope for the Kingdom of Heaven
As Israelites hoped for the prophesied Kingdom of Heaven that Jesus ushered in, Christians hope for the Kingdom of Heaven as it will be when Jesus returns.
As the Apostle Paul so passionately reminds us, “If it is only in this life we have hope, we are of all men most to be pitied” (1 Corinthians 15:19). Even when we are young and healthy, all our loved ones are alive, and we live in the most prosperous time in history, we should still live in hope.
Earth is full of comforts and troubles. But our present happiness or sadness is nothing compared to the glory of what will be. We are aliens and strangers on earth, for we “desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one.” (Hebrews 11:16.)
If we lose hope, we would either give in to despair or simply decide to forget about heaven and enjoy earth. We could probably do both at once.
Despair and hedonism are rampant. Suicide rates are high, and people rush to fill their souls with earthly pleasure and to find earthly cures for all that ails this fallen world. Thank God his faithful servants lived differently. In good times and bad, in the Temple and in Babylon, they longed for the fulfillment of God’s promises. They waited faithfully, because they were confident God’s word is true, and they hungered for what they could not see, they thirsted for what they had never known, until Christ was born of a virgin.
Maybe such hope is hard because our vision of heaven is often vague and boring and mostly involves clouds. That view is unbiblical. We read in the Bible of a new earth, and a New Jerusalem coming down from heaven. The River of Life flows through the city from the throne of God. On the banks of the river the Tree of Life grows, and the people eat of its fruit. While some parts of the Biblical description of heaven may be metaphorical (measurements that are multiples of 12, for instance) there is no reason to substitute for these powerful and beautiful images bloodless abstractions that fall far short of them and replace the vibrant heaven of Christianity with a disembodied one borrowed from paganism.
The Bible is clear that our bodies, not just our souls, will be resurrected — raised imperishable and glorious. And these resurrected bodies need a place to live. Why not a glorious city on a new earth?
Randy Alcorn, in his book Heaven, suggests that there will be natural wonders in the new earth, we will travel in and out of the New Jerusalem, and travel throughout the new earth. Based on his careful reading of the Bible, he says we will explore, recognize each other, enjoy each other’s company, be highly creative, worship God, and live in joyful communion with Him — and we will not grow tired or weary or bored.
That is a kind of heaven we can hope for.
We Hope for Redemption
The prophets hoped for the redemption of the people of God. Redemption from what? Sin and death. How do we wait for redemption since the crucifixion has already occurred?
The Apostle Paul said that “we wait for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” (Romans 8:23.) What does this mean? I think it means the resurrection of the dead, and the glorification of our bodies. No more death or pain or shameful physical appetites, only life and health and joy.
We Hope for Jesus, Not the World
And we must hope for Jesus. “Come, Lord Jesus!” wrote the author of Revelation. So did the prophets and so do we. How can a Christian be satisfied with a comfortable life on earth or a heaven with good things and loved ones, and not long for Jesus? He is called “the desire of nations.” Wait in hope for him.
If Israel had neglected hope, where would we be? We too are part of God’s long plan for salvation. We from every age are saved, if we remain faithful. If we do not give up hope. We wait in hope sympathetically with those who hoped for Christ’s birth, and we hope for Christ’s return.
Advent can remind us that our hope does not disappoint, because God’s promises are not empty. Israel waited very long, but finally God himself became a member of their own race, a son of David, to redeem them from their sin. Who could say they waited for nothing? They didn’t, and neither do we. So do not give up hope.